Slowly, I roll over on the springy mattress in the 9 square metre room that I have been calling mine for the past four months. I press the smiling android figure on my phone with the 'zzZ' next to its head. Snooze. Although it's already 11 am and I'm not the least bit tired, I find it hard to get up when almost every day starts with the sound of the relentless Irish rain banging on the roof. Finally, I let out a loud sigh and get up, get dressed, take the envelope that has been lying on the tiny Ikea desk for a few days and head out.
The elderly man in the house opposite stands in the front yard, which is not more than a few tiles and a rose bush he pretends to tend whenever he sneaks out for a smoke (I can hear his wife shouting at him from across the street). He shakes his head, and I'm not sure if that is directed at me, the rain, or the litter-strewn street where only three of the red brick houses are inhabited and all the others have signs boasting 'student accommodation'.
The chubby Chinese chef from the garishly lit, supposedly Japanese restaurant 'Sakura' has a smoke behind the building, throwing his cigarette butt over to the fenced in lot which has been boasting a 'sold' sign for months now. But the only development here is the steadily growing pile of litter, empty Guinness cans, plates and forks and even an old TV. Not like recycling exists in this city, anyway.
I turn right at the Japanese restaurant, onto Botanic Avenue, which has given the quarter its unofficial name since 'Queen's Quarter' has become a little too politically charged. The blue-green street cleaning vehicle keeps driving up and down the same stretch of road, ignoring all the parts of the road that are actually dirty. Stopping at the ATM next to the second hand clothing shop with the funky 70s style neon sign, I pull out my debit card, but then reconsider as I notice splinters of glass all over the keys and around the machine. I walk a little further, past the Oxfam charity shop, the 'War not Want' used book shop and the empty Korean restaurant, but the cash machine next to the Spar convenience shop has a queue of at least ten students, all eager to withdraw a crisp £10 note so that the machine will have run out of them by noon. Surely I can pay by card.
Three bald, heavily tattooed middle-aged guys sit on the flimsy metal chairs in front of Centra, advertising 'tea and sausage roll: 99p and you're sorted', downing their (hopefully?) first beer of the day. I cross the street, gingerly traipsing around the giant puddle that has formed during this night's rainstorm.
A minute later, I arrive at the end of Botanic Avenue, at the little post office facing the defunct Ulster Bank building and the pub decorated with Union Jacks, proclaiming 'Welcome to the South Belfast Northern Ireland Supporter's Club'. Inside the post office, the queue only seems to consists of tourists who forgot to change their Euros into Sterling. An American couple in matching jeans and white sneakers complains 'I really don't get why they must use a different currency in each state'. As there's only one counter dealing with currency exchange, I quickly get through to the permed, fake tanned clerk in her late 40s, who seems to be in charge of handling 'everything else'.
She turns to me and smiles: 'Haai luff, whacanIdoefarya?', she says in the broad yet slightly nasal local drawl that has little in common with the lyrical, rhythmic accent most visitors associate with the proverbial romantic Ireland. I open my mouth and say 'Hiya, I need your help, I haven't done this before'. Instantly, the smile freezes as she ponders whether I'm English or a foreigner - although up here, that's the same, really - and she starts to talk slowly, as if talking to a small child or someone hard of hearing: '70p for a postcard to Europe, luff. At the next counter. Cheerio.'
'No, see, I need to send this via special delivery, and also include a special delivery envelope addressed to myself'. Befuddled, she picks up the passport, whose fabric lining is unravelling at the edges, and frowns 'Ah, to Lahndahn. Visa application.'
10 minutes later, my passport and visa application are on their way. As soon as the return envelope shows up at my house, I'm free again.